Over the years I've taken a few looks at browser desktops, or desktops that exist solely within a web browser. They were briefly in the running for consideration as a cloud desktop, but because of limited functionality (they were essentially portals that looked like Ubuntu or Windows with links to third party web applications) and the fact that we got really good at delivering actual Windows desktops from the cloud, they never took off.
Overall, I've written two prior articles about browser desktops, one featuring frontrunner G.ho.st (as well as some other solutions), and another five months later talking about how G.ho.st was shutting down. In fact, of the five or six browser desktop companies that I wrote about in 2010 (I wasn't aware of Stoneware at the time), only one of them is still alive as a browser desktop: eyeOS. I think that the product called iCloud is still somewhere out there under a new name, but I'm guessing they're spending most of their time counting all the money Apple paid them to buy iCloud.com.
Does that mean I'm the kiss of death? Let's hope not, at least for eyeOS and Stoneware! In truth, what's kept them around is the fact that they're not as focused on making "Windows in the browser" as some of the other companies were, and while the browser is the main interface, it's what you can access from that interface that keeps them relevant. The most important thing, though, is that they didn't forget that companies already have solutions in place. Many of the now-deceased competitors appeared to favor the forklift approach. One day, you use Windows, Windows Apps, and corporate file shares, and the next day you use browser desktops, web apps, and file sharing services. That's not the case with Stoneware and eyeOS, and it's what's kept them in the discussion for so long.
EyeOS and Stoneware are having success today (Stoneware was recently acquired by Lenovo) because some of the aspects of the browser desktop that weren't relevant in 2010 are now right in the sweet spot of the consumerization of IT. Those companies that have come and gone were the bleeding edge companies that just couldn't stick around long enough for people to actually be aware of cloud services, let alone use them or want to deploy them to a company. Cloud file storage services, for example, were off the corporate radar back then, and companies are actually using cloud applications now, rather than just acknowledging their existence.
Today, we have two solutions that, rather than fly in the face of what organizations are doing, actually align with many of their initiatives. Both solutions plug into the existing infrastructure for authentication, file services, and application access. Even Windows applications are accessible through HTML5 remote desktop clients (or native clients, if they exist on the endpoint). If the built-in file viewers aren't enough for you, you have the ability to right click on a file and tell it to open in the actual application. Plus, all of this can be done from mobile phones and tablets, too.
I've only had a briefing with Stoneware, so I'll avoid doing a feature comparison of the two, although it is evident that there are significant differences between them. Stoneware appears to be more about integration with many different device types and services, whereas eyeOS appears to be a more all-inclusive platform with a focus on collaboration.
There are use cases today that simply did not exist three years ago for technology like this, and it's important to keep in mind that these solutions don't require forklift migrations. They can be deployed to address those specific use cases while integrating into your existing environment, which couldn't be said in 2010. They're also worth another look when thinking about BYOC / BYOD initiatives. While the actual ownership of a device isn't all that important, the fragmentation of hardware, device capabilities, and operating systems is hard to get a grip on, and maybe a solution like this can help whitewash all the different form factors and features to make it easier to manage access to applications and files for our users.
The bottom line is that the browser desktop isn't dead, and there appears to be at least two companies that are getting it right, at the right time. Take a look at them and let me know what you think.